Minnesota brewers gathered at the Capitol on Thursday to make the case for the state to remove its limits on which breweries can sell growlers.
Leaders of some of Minnesota's biggest craft breweries said they are struggling during the pandemic. They urged legislators to lift a restriction that prevents a handful of breweries that make more than 20,000 barrels of beer annually from being able to sell the to-go jugs.
"When we're allowed to succeed and grow and thrive, that means more jobs in our community, more economic activity, more tax dollars in the state coffers," said Jim Diley with Fulton, which produces too much beer to sell growlers. "It also means, for thirsty Minnesotans, more great craft beer to explore."
Some Republicans in the House and Senate pledged their support, and many Democrats called for action as well.
So what's the holdup?
For beer distributors, liquor stores and restaurants, the possibility that people could walk out of a big craft brewery's front door with a growler can be a cause for concern. Associations representing those businesses warned that further changes to the growler cap, which was last raised in 2013 to allow more breweries to offer growlers, could give an unfair advantage to the big breweries.
"It is an issue where not everybody is in agreement," House Commerce Chairman Zack Stephenson, DFL-Coon Rapids, said Friday. "And it's going to be hard to do things that require a lot of work right now, because of the limitations on us due to the pandemic. So it would be a lot easier if everyone would come to an agreement on it."
The chairmen of the House and Senate Commerce committees — Stephenson and GOP Sen. Gary Dahms — have not yet agreed to hold hearings on the bills in their committees, which are key stopping points for the so-called "free the growler" bills.
"Our bandwidth is really restricted," Stephenson said, noting that they are focusing on bills that are "mission critical" this session.
"There have been no agreements to hear a bill on increasing the growler cap," Dahms, R-Redwood Falls, said in a statement. "However, I remain committed to working on the issue to find compromise between the stakeholders. … Until compromise can be reached between the parties, I believe current law is working quite well as evidenced by the incredible growth in the craft brewing industry."
Sen. Karin Housley, R-St. Mary's Point, argued otherwise at a news conference with brewers. In her district, Lift Bridge Brewing Co. is nearing the 20,000 barrel mark that would preclude it from selling growlers.
"These small family-owned businesses are so important to our communities," she said, as they create jobs and attract tourism.
But Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, said a conversation with Stephenson and Dahms on the measure earlier this winter did not leave her with much hope for the growler bills' future. "I think both of them could pass the floor, but are blocked by the chairs," Pappas said.
Jessie Van Berkel • 651-925-5044